Sometimes I wonder why the church in North America seems to be making so little progress in terms of people coming to Christ and seeing believers grow into committed, productive disciples of Jesus. If you take even a quick look at research done by the Barna Group you discover that there is statistically very little difference between Christians and non-Christians when it comes to world view, divorce rates, beliefs about important cultural issues, etc. And church growth these days seems more an issue of Christians moving from one church to another rather than increase based on new believers.
It doesn't take very long to come up with a pretty long list of contributing reasons for this reality. I think about how thoroughly the American church attendee is enculturated in the consumer mindset. That's where the 'cruise ship' perspective comes from exemplified by the prevalent mindset that the church Pastor and staff exist to serve the needs of the members rather than equip the members to do the work of ministry. Then there's the predominant mindset that life is all about accumulating wealth and living 'the American Dream' which is accompanied by the 'God as cosmic vending machine' perspective. Certainly it must be God's job to provide what I want when I want it so that my life will be easy, right? And the list of contributing factors goes on and on...
Recently I was thinking about this state of affairs while rereading the prayer(s) of Jesus in John 17 and was shocked when I read verses 20-23:
20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
Wow, if Jesus truly believed that unity of the believers would be the way the world would know about him and God's love, could it be that our disunity is a primary factor in the North American church's lack of impact? Now there's a theory you don't hear a lot about! Inside the church we are very clear about why we're distinct from other denominations but in a post Christian culture that all appears to be a confusing, dis-unified mess. And all too often, the internal 'fights' that erupt in local churches are the things talked about around town and sometimes make their way into the local or even national news. Study the prayer for yourself. See if you think the lack of unity among the believers could be a factor in the church's lack of effectiveness.
I for one believe it is. That's one of the reasons I'm so excited about the vision of Master's Group. We want to provide a context for pastors in a community or region to come together, build relationship, learn leadership skills and help each other figure out the way through tough ministry issues. This is good for the pastors and their individual churches but it's not the end game for Master's Group. We want Master's Groups to be instrumental in stimulating the kind of unity that will result in community transformation. That will likely work itself out in different ways in different communities but we believe the unity developed among the pastors will transfer to churches working together on projects to serve and reach out to the community. When the believers work together in unity, Jesus will be seen for who he is and God's love will be evident. If you believe Jesus' prayer, you have to believe that this kind of unity will make a difference!